Michael Knell, Author of Adventure Stories, Thrillers, Horror, Occult, and Fantasy Books.



Oh, yes - I remember it well!

Colden CommonAs we get older I guess we must all suffer from nostalgic mental trips - I know I do. At least twice a year I find myself staring at your map of Colden Common and re-living a great part of my childhood - the time when I lived in this fondly remembered village - the nineteen-fifties. I sit here and I wonder: where today are all those wonderful people that I then knew? And: whatever happened to all those young and tender friendships of yesteryear? Then we believed they were forever; they were bonds that nothing could, or would, ever destroy. We thought they were immortal. But alas, they were not. Sadly, as all too often happens, time and circumstances take them from you.

Between the ages of around eight-years-old until when I was seventeen and my father's employment forced us to move away, I lived at 12 Moors Close. Some older residents may still remember the Knell family: Joe and Marj (my father, and my stepmother); Michael (that's me!); and my half-brothers and sisters (in descending age): Vicki, Nicholas, Simon, and Sally. My father passed on a couple of years ago, aged eighty-four - I guess many of the parents that I once knew in the village will by now have gone the same way. Time is such a cruel master.

Those early days of mine at Colden Common were days of enlightenment. My father kept chickens in a little "field" near the entrance to the close, in Lower Moors Road between the then Hardy's (I believe) tennis court and the back gardens of Spring Lane. He would sell the eggs to locals, friends and neighbours - mostly from the close, as I remember, but some further afield.

As a young boy from London now rejoining my family, I'd never met a chicken before - well, not knowingly. That on your plate didn't resemble these feathery friends, as they soon became. So I enjoyed my twice daily chores of trundling down there with a wheelbarrow full of corn, steaming meal and other stuff to feed them, to collect the eggs, and to throw something at Toby, the wildest running-chained Alsatian dog you could imagine whose job it was to guard them, but whose mission it was to break loose and eat some of them - as he frequently managed.

It wasn't until just before that first Christmas "in the country" that I learned the fearful truth. The time when I had to accompany my father down there after dark and he went into the chicken house - only to wring their necks and pass the still flapping wildly corpses of my friends out to me! That, and the subsequent plucking, upset me deeply and for a while I hated the world. To this day I still don't eat chicken.

I remember there was a bit of "a split" in Colden Common in those days - I wonder if it's still apparent today? Some parents favoured Twyford Primary School and Church (St. Mary's) over the village's own, and later the Winchester schools over the Eastleigh ones. I don't know why this was so - in that era you just obeyed your parents wishes, you never argued with them, and rarely questioned their decisions. My parents were in the former league and so I went to Twyford C of E Primary School, and sung as a choirboy at St. Mary's Church (for tuppence a time), subsequently becoming a Head Choirboy there along with Bill Russell. Later we both went to Peter Symond's Public Grammar School in Winchester together, where I believe he did quite well, but I didn't come anywhere near to my parent's expectations.

The Russells had a farm a mile or so away at Highbridge by the river. There, where it would cross the road, we would often go for a dip in the summer, until there was a national polio scare. After that it had to be the Lido in Winchester officially - unofficially we still often managed a river dip. (Were the summers hotter then, or is it only the memories that are warm?) Bill had brothers: Tom, Ralph (who had a gruff voice but who simply had to join the choir because his brothers were in it - and who was often required to only mime in the quieter bits!), and Andy or Andrew, as I remember. I wonder, does the family still have the farm?

Occasionally I would pass time at Russell's farm, but the farm that I was more often to help out on (help? - I was probably a hindrance!) was the Cook's farm which was on the same road, but only about half-way to the Russell's farm. I would heave bales of hay around, and do all kinds of little jobs - anything - just for a few minutes of driving the tractor. The Cook's lived at the entrance to Moors Close where the grey Ferguson tractor and trailer parked outside was a familiar sight.

Geoffrey Cook, their second son, was perhaps a year younger than me. We became close friends when he too started at Peter Symond's, a year later than I did. A great chum who, wanting an Army career, joined the Junior Leaders and once, on leave, frightened the life out of me when, wishing to show off his training, he forced me to accompany him in scaling the steep chalk cliffs of the busy by-pass under St. Catherine's Hill.

Geoffrey used to help Jack Francis with the weekly 16mm film shows in the Village Hall that were popular at that time. It was a job that he handed over to me when he "joined up", and one which I truly enjoyed. Jack and his wife lived in the detached house next to the Village Hall and had projectors, films, and all kinds of cine "things" to extravagant abundance. I think "film buff" could never cover it when it came to Jack! He also owned a small cinema in Sunningdale that he once took me to in his plush white Jaguar that was the envy of many. We, at that time, had an old Morris 10 - and that was considered fortunate.

Originally we used to have the film shows in Colden Common on Friday evenings, and in Owslebury on Mondays. Later, Twyford was added for another evening. Never mind the draughty halls, and the much to be desired noisy wooden chairs, it was great fun in those days: a cartoon or two, a feature film, and a raffle - all for a couple of bob! And I got half-a-crown a week for helping - very generous then, but Jack was a generous person. Distinguished would be a good description for Jack: edging slightly towards the portly, well spoken, always smartly dressed - and with either a cigar or his pipe. That's how I remember him.

When we had to move away from the village, and all my friends, I was heartbroken. And it seemed to happen so suddenly. Vickers-Armstrong re-structured and we had to hit Swindon. (I'm now in Blackpool). The movies job I passed on to another great friend: John Mitchell (the spelling could be wrong). John would have been two years younger than me, and another one who on joining Peter Symond's was somewhat protected by me by being forewarned of the initialisation of bowing to the founder's grave - which was, in fact, an enormous drainage vent built resembling a tomb. The Mitchells lived at the far end of the close, and once astonished everybody by moving next door! John had an older brother (Leslie?) who was into motorcycles, and at least two, much older it seemed, very pretty sisters. Another very nice family.

Friends I had in Colden Common evolved over the years due to "the split" that I've mentioned. In the primary school days we all pretty much mixed together. I remember Michael Merritt from Moors Close (who was lumbered with taking me to school on my first day, and with looking after me - which he did well. He was a good mate), Paul Money from New Road, whose parents had a sweet shop on the main road where oft, having walked to and from school, we would spend our bus money on bubble gum, fruit salads and blackjacks. And Colin Matley who lived in Lower Moors Road opposite the field with "the hump" (now houses) where we would play, and if it rained shelter in the old caravan which had become a den in his garden. We were very much "a gang".

After the "11plus" exam in those days friendships changed as some went on to Eastleigh and others, like me, went to Winchester. We were all still friends, of course, but paths changed and they didn't cross often enough. Different busses, different directions, forced new friendships to be cemented - many now would be those who were on the bus you joined to go to school, or who themselves joined you along the route. Older now we would travel to another village or town to meet up with these new friends, and our new classmates - and in doing so we further widened the gap with our old friends. And around that time too, those things once ridiculed, and called "girls", started to become important for some amongst us.

Things that I remember: Tennis at Hardy's tennis court for sixpence. Fallers from their orchard. Swimming at "the loch". Scrumping from the orchards along the road to Colin Matley. Bluebell picking. Blackberrying. Harvest time and a few bob earned. The little hut shop in Spring Lane. The Post Office near the Black Horse pub where often, like most kids, I'd have to take the little red notebook with our weekly grocery order in it. King Alfred busses. The (was it: Tip Top?) baker's horse that would dump in the road - and I'd have to be first there to shovel it up for the garden. Many a rendezvous behind the garages down the slope at the end of the close where all kinds of strange things happened - don't ask! Regularly taunting an older lad, who lived in the prefabs behind us, until he got angry and chased us - why we did it, I'll never know - I guess it was a kid thing. Dragging the streets (and being a nuisance) on Fireworks Night whilst alternating between the several big bonfire parties there would be spread around the village. Our "gang" always put our two-pennyworth in with the Matleys - they always put on a good show - but we'd be sure to keep a few bangers back so that we could give the village hell afterwards. Carol singing, and all the mince pies and sweets we'd be given. Naughtily re-locating beer bottles from crates by the side of the Rising Sun in order to later claim the 2d deposit in the off-sales - but not very often. Snow, and sledging down the hill towards the river, in a field on the left as you leave the village on the B3335. Skating on the icy pond in the field with the hump. Lemonade and old-fashioned Smith's Crisps with my family in the garden at the Dog & Crook, whilst savouring the healthy country air - their pigs! Choir nights, and disrespectfully playing amongst the gravestones, sometimes lying in wait in the darkness to leap out on some poor unsuspecting church-goer. The ghostly stories of a phantom coach and horses that raced through the avenue of trees only to crash into the wall of the big house in Brambridge. Those enjoyable mobile cinema nights. Paper rounds; mornings, evenings, and even on Sundays once the voice breaking ended the chorister days. Us smoking lads, big men that we were, had to work our guts out to buy ten Woodbines in those days (four Domino if you were short) - but just occasionally, and certainly not often enough, we were flush and able to run to a large bottle of Brown Ale and go off to the woods to sup it.

I wonder: does anybody still remember the village copper we had at that time? He lived on the main road opposite the garage and was aptly named: Mr Penny! We gave him a lot of respect in those days. He was quite firm with us kids. I know at that time everybody in the village had to show a light on their car if it was parked on the road overnight - even in our sleepy close - he insisted on it. The dual faced lamp that could be plugged into the cigar lighter, and then fitted appropriately by winding up a window on it, became popular, but in winter everyone's battery was flat by the next morning and so people started parking on the grass verges to avoid breaking the law - which didn't do a lot for the condition of the grass around the close.

Something else I recall is a show at the Village Hall, maybe a pantomime, where I along with Geoffrey Cook were stage-hands, and I do believe that his mother was the one responsible for winding the curtains open and shut, as well as being the prompter. I remember that to our horror, and to the utter delight of the audience, the curtains jammed open at the end of one of the acts and we had to embarrassingly wrestle with them whilst perched precariously atop of step ladders. Being unsuccessful in releasing them, we were forced into changing the scenery in full view of the appreciative audience. It was embarrassment beyond belief to a posing young teenager.

Some people I still remember from the area: Billy Hammond whose jeans were always at least two sizes too small - drainpipes were in, but how he was in them we'll never know. And then there was his sister (maybe a half-sister - I believe the surname was different), a stunning girl and one who broke many a young man's heart; The Pikes, esp. Sheila; the Moodys who were our neighbours; the Watsons, esp. Carol - but they moved away for "personal" reasons; the Matleys, esp. Colin; the Moneys, esp. Paul, who I once saw on a television quiz show many years later; the Merritts, esp. Michael; the Cooks, esp. Geoffrey, and the tennis friend of his: dear old Tim who was a lovely character; the Smiths (they arranged delivery of the evening paper), esp. "Piffer"; another Smiths, these near Twyford Moors, esp. Brenda; the Bagleys, esp. Helen who had some great birthday parties; the Russells, esp. all the boys; the Healeys, esp. Christopher; Peter Knight from Eastleigh, a close classmate - I wonder if he still remembers how we got caned by the Head (Shields) for scrumping when we hadn't been - we'd been smoking behind the pavilion, but could hardly use that as an excuse! Then there was Jack Francis and his wife; the Rev. Bynon (Twyford); Anthony Holloway (Winchester), a wonderful guy with "fun is me" written all over him; Celia Fulford (Twyford) and her guinea pigs; a couple of boys in New Road (whose names have gone - was one of them Brian? And maybe, Cooper?), and another young guy, a bit of a big lad who lived in a bungalow opposite them where we'd "relax" to the latest pop records blaring out beyond the point of distortion from his Dansette record player. I think his name might have been Ricketts - maybe Alan; and then, of course, there were the Mitchells, esp. John.

There were obviously others, perhaps many others, that I knew well, but where my memories have succumbed to time. I do hope I haven't offended anybody who was close by omitting them. Like Mr Chips, all those that I do remember have never aged. Today my eyes look at your photographs and I read the news of all the wonderful things that there now are in the village - but in my mind I still see the Colden Common that I grew up in. To me it will always be the same loved "home" as I knew it. And that is why, as pleased as I am that the village is doing so well, I must never visit it again, in case those memories should change.

I have been back to Colden Common just twice since leaving, although I've whizzed past in a car several times on my way to the south coast. Once, after only having left for a year or so, I cycled there one hot summer's day (about 70 miles) and stayed with the Cooks overnight. On this lightning visit I was lucky enough to meet up with John Mitchell again. I remember we went off for a drink together and talked of old times - that fortunate meeting is something I have cherished ever since; something that I shall take with me to my grave. Oh, that we could do it again. For those few short hours I was back there and once more a part of it all.

The only other time was several years later, in my Merchant Navy days, when two of us were hitch-hiking to Southampton (from Swindon, having spent all our leave money) to pick up our separate ships. On that occasion, passing through Colden Common, I happened to bump into Mrs Pike in Spring Lane. From the fleeting exchange we had I gathered that most of my friends had flown their nests and moved on. To where? She didn't know. A great emptiness enveloped me - and all these years later it can still come back to haunt me.

If anybody reading this does still remember me, if you are one of those old friends and would like to say hello, then you can email me on knellmj at hotmail.com - it would be so great to hear from you.

Acquaintances: being a paper boy, I suppose once I must have known most of the immediate village. Friends: I had many of them - and all of them good. And close friends: I had my full share of those too. But I think, as we get older, many of us come to realise that we had one person who was very special to us in our early years; someone who we could talk to when we were feeling a bit down, and not be judged; and maybe someone who at that time we did not let know just how much we appreciated them. I know I do, and mine was strangely (because of the two year age difference), but undoubtedly, John Mitchell. I hope he has survived these mortal chains as I have, and that he is still with us today. Any news from him, or of him, would be treasured. I do hope life smiled on him and treated him kindly.

The Colden Common web site is beyond excellence. I hope all the villagers appreciate all the hard work that must go into it. It is something that should never be let go of, or neglected - it is brilliant. Believe me, even back in those "good old days", walking all the way up to the Parish Hall Notice Board to see what was happening around the village was never this good!

With Fond Memories, and with All Best Wishes for the continuing success of Colden Common and its many inhabitants . . .

Michael Knell.

Visit: http://www.coldencommon.hants.gov.uk